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Irish Open: Sergio Garcia hopes to Royal County Down as Major springboard

By Steven Beacom

Sergio Garcia has happy memories of the Irish Open and would love to create a few more this week.

The Spaniard won his first European Tour event on the island in 1999 at Druids Glen.

Back then everyone in the world of golf felt a career littered with Major wins was assured for Garcia.

It hasn't exactly worked out that way with the 35-year-old still waiting to break that particular duck, but that hasn't stopped him becoming one of the most popular players on the circuit, not least for his Ryder Cup heroics with Team Europe.

Garcia will have a large following this afternoon when he plays the Royal County Down course, which he became acquainted with for the first time yesterday.

And if the home favourites aren't successful, the Northern Ireland golf fans would welcome a Garcia victory.

Put it this way. Sergio will get a warmer reception here than he did during the closing holes of the Players Championship in the United States when he lost out in a play-off to American Rickie Fowler.

Garcia revealed once Rory McIlroy, whose Foundation is hosting the tournament, asked him to come there was only ever going to be one answer.

"There are a lot of great players here. It is a great course and with Rory's Foundation hosting the tournament I'm excited about it," said Garcia.

"When Rory asked it was a fairly easy decision to make and obviously I've been looking forward to having an excuse to come back to The Irish Open. So I guess that was a good one to have.

"My first victory on The European Tour was at the Irish Open so it is a special tournament for me.

"The Irish Open is always going to hold a great spot in my heart."

Padraig Harrington believes an Irishman will win come Sunday. Garcia, though, who will play with the Dubliner in the opening two rounds, is not so sure.

"I don't know, it's a big statement," he said.

Smiling, he added: "I mean, if the full field was Irish, then I would say for sure, but there's a lot of great players out there. Anybody can win it.

"Obviously if Rory plays to the level we know he can, like he played at Quail Hollow, for example, or the Match Play, he's going to be tough to beat.

"At the same time, I think we can all give our part of the show and we all have a chance. We'll see.

"Hopefully I'll be able to prove Padraig wrong."

Perhaps some family knowledge will come in handy for Garcia, whose dad Victor has played the course in years gone by.

"He played one or two British Senior Opens here and obviously he told me it's a great golf course," added Garcia, determined to shine over the next four days as he builds up to a busy summer in which he will finally hope to claim that elusive first Major title.

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